When the largest recording conglomerate in the world, Universal swallowed legendary reggae imprint Trojan back in 2007, many feared it would be forgotten by its mighty new owner.
Now three years on Universal appear to be gearing up to make the most of the treasures at their disposal with some pretty impressive compilations emerging and loads more scheduled for imminent release.
To mark this new burst of activity, I had a natter with Trojan’s Laurence Cane-Honeysett, who’s been at the label for two decades now. For much of this time he’s had what many would consider a dream job, rooting through the vaults, unpicking the scrambled or unlabelled 1/4 inch masters in search of undiscovered gems ripe for reissue.
Listen to the interview below – including classic Trojan sounds – to hear Laurence reminisce about trips to the Trojan archive in Walthamstow, reveal plans for future unreleased material, and talk through the Ska, Mod, Dub and Label overview compilations that have just hit the shelves.
MLD: Whats your role in the now Universal owned Trojan Records?
I’ve worked for Trojan records as the Jamaican music consultant since 1990. I ve worked in various capacities, I started off started off listening to the tapes and then compiling and writing sleeve notes. In later years I went on to oversee the releases, and now I work in an advisory capacity for Universal in terms of what they have in their reggae catalogue.
MLD: Whats the idea behind the 4 compilations that have just been released?
We used to do a series pre Universal of 3 CD boxsets, and these new comps are very much in the tradition of those. By and large genre based, introductions to various genres and scenes, that follow that model except 2 cd’s set and 40 tracks, but we didn’t want people who’d bought the boxsets to think wait a minute I’ve got these tracks on the boxsets.
What we’ve tried to do with these is include as much rare and unreleased material as possible.
The only thing is we are limited in terms of what’s available, we are negotiating to get the rights for more repertoire. People often think well it came out on Trojan in 1970 they can release it now, but obviously agreements expire. So we are limited, and someone might say well whys there no Studio 1.
MLD: So when you say unreleased, what do you mean? Unreleased on CD, on vinyl, or never ever heard before?
The four compilations Ska, Mod, Trojan, and Dub. None of the stuff on the Dub collection has appeared on a Trojan collection before. Other companies may have released tracks or Trojan may have issues it years and years ago.
The other collections we are trying to get stuff that has never been out before, its a first. Never out in Jamaica or the Uk, focussing either never been on CD before or never been in UK before. But by and large, good stuff, the best stuff has been out in some form, but we’re focussing on what’s never been out in UK, because obviously Jamaica produced more music than ever made it to the UK.
Buy: Trojan Amazon store
MLD: What particularly stands out for you? Is it the tracks issued for the first time like Rupie Edward’s “Let Me Love You”?
Its a little subjective, for example I’ve had Rupie Edwards “Let Me Love You” all my adult life, I bought the record god knows when, but that’s never been issued in the UK and only ever limited issue in Jamaica. Its a cover of an old pop song by the Playmates although its light years away from that in terms of style. Its a personal favourite, its studio 1 with Sound Dimension on backing.
The Mod one what I did like is that there are some old Island Chris Blackwell. A lot of Chris’s early Ska productions especially UK ones have been overlooked, no ones known what to do with them. So this was a perfect vehicle to show them off, and demonstrate that he was a decent producer and some of the music that came out on Island in the early 60’s and was big on the MOD scene.
MLD: Universal own Island so I imagine the plan is to tie in and plunder both archives as one?
We’ve Island, we’ve got Creole, Ras, Trojan, its an incredible collection so lets really start making the most of it which up until now perhaps that hasn’t happened. The opportunities to do “ultimate” compilations is there and that’s what we’re aiming for.
MLD: Is it a challenge servicing the “Now That’s what I call Reggae” market while not forgetting the collectors or hardcore fans?
You cant abandon the hardcore market, and you have to service it? Its two distinct markets and there’s room for them both.
Universal just did a compilation a hundred reggae hits for Tesco which was a really big seller, but obviously that sort of market is vastly different to the type of stuff that I get most joy out of which is stuff that’s never been out.
Listen: Click here to listen to Jonathan Charles’ fascinating BBC Radio 4 documentary on Sister Nancy “The Nun Nurtured That Reggae“.
MLD: Tell me about the experience of getting the keys to the archive for the first time?
That’s how it all started 20 years ago. That was my first job, the 9-5 job was working in Trojan’s archive out in Walthamstow. I’d get off at Blackhorse Road tube station and it’d be a 30 minute walk from there.
MLD: My home station! On U Sound also had their studio near Blackhorse Road.
Blimey! A hot bed of reggae! That’s where the warehouse was, all the tapes, all the stock.
I got the job because I was working for Record Collector writing review and articles, and then Steve Barrow who went on to run Blood & Fire, he left, and then I worked freelance for a while as a compiler and sleeve note writer. And then I said I want to be doing more and they said well we’ve got all these tapes that aren’t logged, come in and let us know what we’ve got on the masters! So Id be in a little studio down the back day in day out just listening to tapes, identifying them, putting them on the system, writing on the tape boxes, what was actually the contents.
It was fantastic, you can imagine it was just an education in itself because back then pre the internet there were very few places you could go for solid information on Jamaican music. It was a gold mine!!
MLD: I’m told the labelling on the tape boxes could have been better?
The funny thing was I always used to wonder why Jamaican music the singles that were pressed over here were so often so badly wrong, until I got to see the tape boxes, because all the tape boxes… it was rubbish what was written on them. It was confusing, or nothing there, or people would make stuff up… that sounds like Jimmy Cliff lets put it out as a Jimmy Cliff thing.
Now of course we find the same situation with the Island tapes which I’m hoping to get to grips with. They have got a database there but the people who originally logged it didn’t know what they were doing. They wouldn’t know if the song title was the song title or the artist. For example we did a Millie compilation recently, the most basic track My Boy Lollipop you’ll get all number of spellings of the track, and of Millie. At the time it was throwaway music it wasn’t really considered high brow or anything it was just lets get this out its a pop record from Jamaica.
MLD: Where are we now in terms of the tape archive, are you back getting access?
Its something that I’m really just giving my attention to. The Trojan is fine, but Island, the later stuff not just Marley, lots of artists, you name it they signed it. So even late 70’s stuff you;d think by then they’d have sorted things out, but its all over the place. Its just a logistical problem for me to get in there, even to see the tapes is a help because sometimes you can see things that perhaps someone who’s not knowledgeable about the music wouldn’t.
MLD: So these are where… there’s a vast store somewhere, they’ve not been digitised..?
No they’ve not been digitized, some are, and the company is moving towards that. Its easier said than done with a vast company. there are people logging and digitizing in some territories but not others. Trying to coordinate that effort takes a lot of effort and money. It is something that we know we need to do, especially as far as digitization goes. While the hardcore might not be that interested in downloading, that’s the way things are going.
Listen: Sandra Robinson – “Sensi For Sale (Part 1)” (MP3)
The Ethiopians – “Everything Crash” (MP3)
MLD: People I’ve talked to about Trojan or who are interested in Trojan seem to want to know… is there anything actually left in the vault!?
Ohh well there is. The answer to that is simple. Funny enough I get asked that question alot as well, because people think wow you put out so much especially in Sanctuary days when they were putting out 7 releases a month! It must have dried up, but so much music was produced particularly from the golden age of Trojan which was late 60’s through to the mid to late 760’s. The amount of music produced in that time is nothing short of incredible.
Even though we’ve released thousands of records over the last 20 years its just incredible how much for which they’ve got rights, which they could release, which is much more then has been out. Really of what’s they’ve got rights to maybe only a quarter at most, so there’s three quarters of the catalogue that’s not been out on CD or digital.
Download: A 21 track compilation of rare crackly 7″ flip side reggae dub versions. Compiled by a now vanished blog liamskablog: The Dubs & Versions Collection (Rar)
MLD: Is one of the issues tracking down the artists, in terms of publishing? Reggae publishing is perhaps known for some shady deals?
That is a problem, because there’s a lot of how could one put it..less than honest practices, but it was easy to just point fingers at the record companies but in truth it ran so much deeper than that. Producers – naming no names – would go to record companies and sign the repertoire exclusively, and then go to another company and do exactly the same deal. And then of course record companies would say what about the artists, and they’d say we’ll sort the artist out. If the the producer refused the record company to pay the artist directly there was nothing the record company could do about it.
But a stance has been taken that whether or not the producer liked it, we’d have to take the money for the artist and if the producers not paying them we have to. Its the right thing to do and we want to keep artists happy.
On the other hand I remember a long time ago there was an artist approached Trojan to pay his royalties, which they did and the following week I read an article saying he’;d never been paid any royalties.
Having said that there is a problem tracking artists down, and record companies have to actively try to do, so that people are getting paid.
MLD: Have you had a eureka moment? Discovering a special treasure that meant a lot to you?
I’ll be honest with you, there have been so many, especially with the Trojan catalogue. I was just like a kid in a candy shop. You can imagine there was stuff that had never been out, and still hasn’t been out, and I was finding stuff from the golden age that got me into the music in the first place. By artists Id never heard of and wonderful wonderful recordings. The only thing I did find though is we put some of those recordings on a compilation back in the early 90’s I think and it bombed. No one was interested. But I think now things have moved on and perhaps because not much has come out over the last couple of years its stoaked up more interest in the new stuff coming. It was getting a little tired before, the fact that we were putting out so much.
MLD: So you turn up at this warehouse in Walthamstow, open the door and before you are just racks and rack of tapes??
yes, literally that, in boxes. Just boxers full of tapes that haven’t been looked at since the day they were put in. That hadn’t been played since the day they arrived at Trojan, it was just mind-blowing. Actually there are still lots of unidentified things, especially on multitrack. Its just finding the time to play all these things, you’ve got hundreds. The only way is to get a studio go in here and play through them.
MLD: Are these all masters, 1/4 inch or are they mastered from vinyl?
It really varies , that’s another ting that was a surprise. It was interesting that we used to ask well this sounds terrible, and we’d be told sometimes that the master was the 7″ single they were provided with. In Jamaica cutting costs they’d use the tape over and over again, so a lot of those old original masters are long since gone and the ones that haven’t that remained in Jamaica, they rotted or they were eaten by termites. Baring in mind what there should be there is really only a small percentage of original masters existing. So we do have to use Vinyl in a lot of cases but then again they were using vinyl back in 1970. Things like Liquidator which was a big hit for Trojan was sourced off of a Jamaican 7″ single. Some people would say that’s the charm that roughness or rawness, it didn’t necessarily need sweetening with overdubs of strings and the like.
Listen: Carl Malcolm – “No Jestering (Part2 – Dub)” (MP3)
Bob Marley & The Wailers – “Buffalo Dub” (MP3)
MLD: Going back to Universal how does Trojan fit in such a vast company. How does it make itself heard?
I think that was a problem to begin with. Universal has a frontline or contemporary record company and they didn’t really get to grips with marketing older music. Trojan is a rather small fish in a huge pond, and it was a little bit lost initially going from one of Sanctuary’s main bread winners to being a really quite insignificant part of Universal.
Now there is a concerted effort and recognition at Universal that Trojan has great value, historically, commercially, but also in kudos, the brand.
MLD: As far as the reissues go, will you be bringing out not just various artists compilations, but also single artist and album reissues? Also there appears to be very little actual product available on even Amazon?
That’s another issue, there is a change over in the way the back catalogue is structured and im very optimistic for the future in terms of what’s being said and planned now. There’s going to be direct to consumer website, aimed at hardcore fans, and more in the way of single artist compilations and originals. On Spectrum albums will be coming out in the originals series such as Harry J Allstars
MLD: I looked on itunes and there appears to be barely any Trojan material available?
Yes, stuff is going up there but by the same token a lot of stuff has been deleted so its in everyone’s interest that the product is available. It may not be of importance to hardcore fans but its a great showcase, if its out there people like tv, adverts, games, films are more likely to use it. The only way we can make money is if the product is out there.
MLD: Aside from the 5 or 6 compilations that have come out in the last month or so, what else is in the pipeline?
Well we are going to be doing a vinyl range which is going to exclusive unreleased and rare material. We’re doing a Bob Marley & Jimmy Cliff single artists compilations.
MLD: Yes I read about you finding lots of unheard Jimmy Cliff in the archive.
It was fantastic, really I could have done a whole albums worth of unreleased Jimmy Cliff and if Id had more time to look maybe a few albums worth. Its astounding but also there is also the Bob Marley Jad stuff which is coming out which is exciting.
Universal acquired the JAD catalogue, pre Island stuff and from end of August beginning of September, the first fruits of that a 4 CD set of stuff that’s never been presented in that form before. Bob Marley when he was a real Soul Rebel. There are a couple of tracks that have never been on CD before and we’ve been promised a 100 or so previously unissued titles , we don’t know how good whether they are just demos, what they are , but that should be happening next year. So its happening across the whole Universal family, this realisation that reggae has this great value to the company.
There’s also going to be a Trojan boxset hopefully, of CD, Vinyl, Memorabilia, an exciting project with the best of Trojan plus rare stuff in there, all sorts of interesting things in a luxury presentation.
Once the obvious names are out there then we get to artists like The Ethiopians and artists of that ilk who aren’t perhaps as well known to the public but have a very important place in terms of the history of Jamaican music. And have commercial value, I mean Train To Skaville was used in a TV advert last year which brings a lot of money in. Its also important to appeal to the core fan base that love and cherish this stuff. Funny enough I found a couple of unreleased Ethiopians tracks amongst the Creole tapes that potentially could come out.
MLD: Well, thank you very much for your time, Ill let you know when its up on the site. Music Like Dirt is of course pinched from the old Desmond Dekker track, although people often don’t understand what it means.
Yes, the 2nd compilation I ever put together was called Music Like Dirt, but the name can be funny. Its not easy, we’ve just done a Lee Perry Black Ark years compilation, which is provisionally called “Sipple Out There” ie “Trouble Out There”. However a few people have quite rightly said what the hell does that mean!?
MLD: I can imagine. I got emails from Lily Allen fans when I put together a compilation of tracks she sampled on her first album… her music isn’t like Dirt they’d say?
You sometimes have to explain it, and you think well maybe I should call it something else.
MLD: Whats the selling point with the Perry collection?
Its amazing its never been done, but its what came out in Jamaica on his label on 7″ single. There’s never been a compilation saying well this is the stuff he issued himself, after he opened Black Ark which he would obviously consider the best.
If it does well we could do the same with the disco mixes , 12″ single, then you could do UK singles, given that Universal have rights via Trojan and Island to all the stuff that Perry put out in the UK after 74. The cross over between Trojan and Island is perfect.
Listen: Boris Gardiner – “Melting Pot (Coldcut re-rub)” (MP3)”
MLD: Finally are there plans to remix any Trojan material or release previous remixes such as WrongTom’s Bob & Marcia’s “I Dont Care” remix ?
A few things got caught up and not released in the buyout of Trojan by Universal but its definitely an area we want to get back into and release.
Going back to what Trojan have and what there is on the masters, with multitracks its ideal for remixing..24 tracks multi’s.
Justin Robertson did one for the last track on the “Heavy Heavy Monster Sound – The Trojan Story” compilation, his remix of a Pioneers song. That’s the sort of thing we’d like to aim at a younger market and to try and suck people in who then may want to dig further. The message to any remixers is come to us, we’re interested in presenting or updating the music for a contemporary audience.
MLD: That’s sort of what I hoped with the Lily Allen compilation, that perhaps her fans would download it, and then discover all this incredible older music they didn’t know Lily was sampling.
To be honest I got into reggae in a similar way , it wasn’t remixes it was covers,. I was a big R&B fan, and I would listen to the radio to people like Charlie Gillett who’d play sound by say Prince Buster. If they weren’t covers they were heavily influenced at least the early stuff by American R&B. I then went back and dug further via that route so I think the same can be done via music now. Hopefully to introduce vintage reggae music to a whole new generation.
BBC Radio 2 Documentary – “Tighten Up – The Trojan Records Story”
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